How to ace your media interviews

media interviews Oct 10, 2021
Media interviews

A media interview is still a great way to get your message in front of a large audience. But it can be intimidating, especially if you’ve not been in front of microphones or cameras before.

So here’s a primer on how to succeed in any media interview.

We’ll start with four basic principles:

  1. Decide what you will say BEFORE you get to the interview. No matter how confident you are, don’t assume you can ad lib your way to success.
  2. Sound bites are short… less than ten seconds; if you can’t be brief, you will not deliver your message effectively.
  3. Reporters are not your enemies, but they’re not your friends, either. You and the reporter have different objectives. Never lose sight of your objective - to deliver your message.
  4. ANSWERS are driven by the reporter’s agenda; MESSAGES are driven by your agenda. Whose agenda do you want to be on?

Now let’s dig a little deeper.

First, be clear what you want to achieve through the interview. It could to:

  1. persuade
  2. explain
  3. promote
  4. educate
  5. engage
  6. defend

Your motive should not simply be to tell people stuff. You want to drive change in some way - change opinions or change behaviours.

Figure out your purpose, then find the shortest way of expressing it. If sound bites are only about 8 seconds long, you only have about 25 words to play with.

You won’t change the sound bite culture. If you insist on giving long answers, don’t be surprised when those answers get edited. It’s no good complaining that you were ‘taken out of context.’

Keep your answers simple. Small words. short sentences. Conversational. Think bullet points rather than paragraphs, or essays, or mission statements.

Make sure people understand why your message matters. Why should people care about what you are saying? The word ‘because’ is a good word to include in your answers.

Anticipate the questions. Some will be obvious and easy… what’s new, why are you doing this, what’s changed, what does it mean? Prepare for them. But spend more time thinking about the difficult, challenging questions. Figure out where you are vulnerable. Reporters are hard-wired to challenge you, to probe, to be skeptical. Figure out the questions you don’t want to hear. 

Figure out how you can bridge, segue, pivot to safety. Bridging is all about finding a word you can respond to. Respond to the theme of a question rather than language used to frame the question.

  • Reframe the question - “Here’s how we see this…”
  • Rephrase the question - “What I’m hearing you asking is…”

Listen hard to the questions. Listen for the word you can hang an answer on. Or find the theme, the issue behind the question. Don’t be a slave to questions - answer the question you WANT to hear, rather than feeling you have to respond literally.

Don’t wait to be asked the right question. It may never come around. You have to make the opportunity or you may lose it.

Every question is a springboard to your message. The reporter is not out to get you, but is not on your side. The reporter’s job is to get a good strong sound bite. Reporters' tools are questions…. some will help, some will not, some will provoke, some will challenge. Don’t fight it. Don’t get defensive or argumentative. Look for the opportunity in every question, no matter how challenging. 

Energy, enthusiasm, tone, passion are powerful communicators. Your posture can enhance your voice and the confidence you project. Sit up confidently. Lean in a little, don’t lean back.

Be conversational. Memorized answers lack authenticity. Know the subject, be comfortable with it, but do not memorize answers.